With Peter Forsberg set to play for Sweden in a small tournament in Finland (Karjala Cup) next week and set to make a decision on returning to his NHL career shortly after I think it is time to take a look at the possible destinations. There are potentially three significant factors that will influence where Forsberg will end up playing:
The ability of the team to win the Stanley Cup
When you are a player who can pretty much decide to play wherever you want you will naturally gravitate towards choosing a team who can win. This is particularly true for older players who have already made a bundle of money and are set for life financially. All indications are that Forsberg has this mindset and really wants to play for a winner. With that in mind, here is a fairly deep list of teams with a relatively decent chance of winning a cup loosely ranked in order of chance of winning: Detroit, Ottawa, Colorado, Minnesota, San Jose, Carolina, NY Rangers, Calgary, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Anaheim.
Familiarity of the team and/or players on that team.
I have read several reports that Forsberg would give preference to returning to a team he has already played with. That would put Colorado, Philadelphia and Nashville as potential destinations. There are also reports that he might enjoy playing with fellow Swedes, or at least fellow Swedes will try to convince him to come play with them. Teams with a significant Swedish contingent of players include Detroit (Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Kronwall, Samuelsson, Lilya, Franzen), Vancouver (Naslund, Ohlund, Sedins), Ottawa (Alfredsson), Toronto (Sundin), NY Rangers (Lundqvist) and Dallas (Norstrom). Not all Swedeâ€™s are created equal though so guys in Forsbergâ€™s age group (Alfredsson, Naslund, Lidstrom, Sundin) probably have an edge over younger Swedeâ€™s who Forsberg isnâ€™t as familiar with and hasnâ€™t play with as much in international competitions (i.e. Lundqvist, Sedinâ€™s, etc.).
Ability for that team meet his salary/contract requests
The final factor is who has the salary cap space to pay Forsberg. Though salary may not be at the top of Forsbergâ€™s priority list, it will be a factor as several teams have an ability to pay him good money. I would expect Forsberg might end up with a contract similar to the contract he signed in Philadelphia which would put him in the $5-6 million range. If Forsberg returns to the NHL in late November or early December it would put the teams salary cap impact at approximately two thirds of Forsbergâ€™s annual salary or about $4 million. There arenâ€™t too many teams listed above that can afford Forsbergâ€™s salary without shedding any salary. The candidate teams (a team mentioned above) that could fairly easily afford (both salary cap wise and internal budget wise) Forsbergâ€™s salary for the current season Colorado, Anaheim (if Niedermayer doesnâ€™t return), Pittsburgh and San Jose though Pittsburgh and San Jose have an abundance of skilled centers already. Detroit has some cap space available as well and if necessary could push Hasekâ€™s bonus money (should he obtain them) onto next years cap space. All other teams would have to shed salary to add him. The Ottawa Senators could probably afford Forsberg if they could manage to shed Martin Gerberâ€™s $3.7 million contract and with his good play to this point in the season it may be possible though I am not sure there are all that many teams looking for a goalie with a good sized contract (maybe Phoenix if they could shed Morrisâ€™s contract). Vancouver could if they could find a taker for Brendan Morrisonâ€™s $3.2 million contract. Dallas would need to free up a couple million in cap space but the only potential candidates to create that space would be Mike Ribeiro or Mattias Norstrom though Norstromâ€™s contract is probably a tough one to move at this point in the season and it is borderline whether freeing up Ribeiroâ€™s contract would create enough space to afford Forsberg. The Flames who always seem to be looking for a center for Iginla could possibly afford Forsberg if they rid themselves of Conroyâ€™s contract. The Philadelphia Flyers are very tight to the cap and would have to get rid of a couple of contracts to afford Forsberg. They could rid themselves of Hatchers contract by either trading him (which is not likely possible) or sending him to the AHL but they would still have to make another move and the remaining candidate are either core players making real big bucks that wonâ€™t likely get moved or are lesser players that just donâ€™t make enough money to make any significant impact. Most of the rest of the teams probably donâ€™t have enough interest in Forsberg or vice versa to really make any attempt at freeing up cap space to sign him.
There is also talk that Forsberg might be looking for a three year deal. If this is the case it puts a whole new spin on the situation. While it may be somewhat easy for Ottawa to rid themselves of Gerberâ€™s contract and sign Forsberg for this year, with Spezza, Vermette, Eaves, and Meszaros restricted free agents and Redden and Kelly unrestricted free agents and already close to $35 million committed to salaries for next season it seems unlikely Ottawa can afford to sign Forsberg to a long term deal. That is unless they made the bold decision to choose Forsberg over Spezza and trade Spezza (an unlikely scenario update: Spezza just signed for 7 years so this won’t happen now). Of the teams mentioned Colorado is in the best shape to dole out a three year contract as they have lots of cap space available with Theodoreâ€™s contract ending as seasons end. Detroit and Vancouver are in pretty decent shape as well though not quite as good as Colorado. Calgary is also a possibility if they chose to commit to Forsberg and not give Conroy, Nolan and either Langkow or Huselius new contracts (all UFAâ€™s at seasons end). Philadelphia is not though as they already have $40 million committed and will have to negotiate new contracts for Carter, Richards, Umberger, and Coburn, most of whom will be seeking raises.
So, where does that leave us? Here is how I would rank the teams in order of how likely they are to land Forsberg:
1. Colorado Avalanche
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Dallas Stars
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Calgary Flames
9. San Jose Sharks
10. Pittsburgh Penguins